Daniel blogs regularly about technology and education at syded.wordpress.com
WHAT IS SOLO TAXONOMY?
The concept was first developed in 1982 (Biggs and Collis) and has since been defined as: ‘Structure of the Observed Learning Outcome—a means of classifying learning outcomes in terms of their complexity, enabling us to assess students’ work in terms of its quality not of how many bits of this and of that they got right.’ John Biggs (2007)
The use of this linear structure allows teachers to focus a class and add layers to learning. James Atherton describes SOLO taxonomy as: ‘levels of increasing complexity in a student’s understanding of a subject, through five stages, and it is claimed to be applicable to any subject area. Not all students get through all five stages, of course, and indeed not all teaching (and even less “training” is designed to take them all the way)’ (James Atherton 2005).
Personally I have heard SOLO taxonomy described as ‘levels of learning’ and ‘degrees of difficulty’. In practice some educators comment on ‘tricky terminology’ and have the view ‘it’s what we do anyway’. Therefore perhaps the simplest description of SOLO refers to a ‘learning journey’ (Paul Mcintosh 2012) where students make their way from prestructural to extended abstract, or little understanding to reflection and theorisation.
This step by step process has been successfully defined and used by a number of teachers in the classroom who have kindly given permission for their findings to be discussed (see recommended blogs below). The current trend follows the creation of ‘SOLO stations’ (Tait Coles 2012) where students can progress from table to table as their understanding improves. This allows them to move from ‘shallow to deep learning’ (Tait Coles 2012) and make progress, OFSTED take note.
It seems the skill of using SOLO lies in the ability of the teacher to set appropriate learning opportunities. If the learning cannot advance from multistructural to relational, for example, then the concept is ineffective. David Fawcett in his GCSE PE class utilises ‘hot maps’ to focus the learning and found: ‘many students were really beginning to develop and map out a cycle that included all the physiological systems from circulatory to skeletal, specifically identifying how they adapt or work when involved in physical activity’ (David Fawcett 2012). Hot maps are a very effective tool for teachers when structuring the lesson as described by Pam Hook and Julie Mills in their excellent Solo Taxonomy, A Guide For Schools.
‘HOT SOLO maps clarify the nature of the learning task – the maps act as effective strategies for each declarative SOLO verb. There are HOT SOLO maps for:
- bringing in ideas – unistructural and multistructural learning outcomes (define, describe)
- connecting ideas – relational learning outcomes (sequence, classify, compare and contrast, explain causes and effects, analyse, form an analogy)
- looking at connected ideas in a new way (generalise, reflect, predict, justify, evaluate). (Pam Hook and Julie Mills 2004)
Mark Anderson in his work with ICT students remarked: ‘What I saw was that students had gathered their unistructural knowledge, worked collaboratively to compare that to multistructural and worked together to make a presentation to the rest of the class which was relational’ (Mark Anderson 2012). Again this came from the skill of the teacher organising the lesson and using iPads to enhance the learning across each stage.
It appears a student’s desire to move on and the skill of the teacher in setting appropriate tasks combine to make SOLO taxonomy a powerful concept.
So where does Mentormob.com figure in all of this? Well, I have been compiling playlists to help with learning new skills particularly in relation to an iPad project. Put simply, Mentormob.com allows the user to link stages of learning to articles/videos from the internet. Anyone can then view these steps and learn how to do something new e.g. iPad Tips and Tricks:
Whilst I was trying to understand SOLO taxonomy and its application I found myself reading fascinating summaries by educators such as Mark Lovatt and Darren Mead. It then occurred to me that the Mentormob playlist structure would suit my learning so I added the articles. As I found further examples I added them by degree of difficulty until I ended up with the SOLO Taxonomy Explained playlist.
As you can see, the learning begins with basic understanding and progresses to how to use SOLO in the classroom. Then it struck me! Isn’t the Mentormob playlist following the same principle as SOLO taxonomy? There is also a quiz section that allows for interaction with the site and can test knowledge. I appreciate it isn’t in the lesson setting but progression occurs along the steps only when each level is understood. Would it be possible to utilise the Mentormob platform to embed SOLO taxonomy terminology? Furthermore could students use the platform to develop their learning outside the classroom?
This stimulated the brain as perhaps an article or video published by a teacher could be supported by questioning that a student could complete. If they were successful in answering the question(s) they would progress to the next stage. The playlist would not be named steps but would include SOLO taxonomy terminology. As David Didau discussed at a recent Teachmeet: ‘SOLO terminology is important for students as it forms part of the language of learning’. The playlists could certainly move students from pre-structural through to relational with extended abstract assigned in a different way (perhaps the final stage would be a task set directly by the teacher to support extended writing?)
Enter Eric Pitt, an Education Partnership Builder for Mentormob. Following discussions with Eric the development of SOLO stations for educators and students is in progress on the website. Whilst SOLO is gaining traction amongst teachers, it is hoped the website will support student learning and maintain consistency for students when required. A teacher could then set up a learning playlist to support a students progress or a ‘flipped‘ class. These playlists could certainly allow students to develop from pre-structural through to relational with extended abstract assigned in an appropriate way (perhaps with a task set directly by the educator?)
Watch this space.
Biggs, J.B., & Collis, K.F. (1982). Evaluating the quality of learning: The SOLO taxonomy. New York: Academic Press
Hook P., & Mills J (2011) Solo Taxonomy, A Guide For Schools. Essential Resources
Biggs, J., & Tang, C. (2007). Teaching for quality learning at university. What the student does (3rd Ed.). Berkshire: Society for Research into Higher Education & Open University Press.